An analysis of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds
Inglourious Basterds, written and directed by Quentin Tarantino and released in 2009, is a continuation of Tarantino's postmodern approach to cinema and may be considered to be of greater cultural significance due to its subject matter and how it is developed through the narrative. Inglourious Basterds features an all-star cast that includes Brad Pitt, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent, and Diane Kruger, among other greats and frequent collaborators. Set during World War II in Nazi-occupied France, Tarantino creates an alternative and fictional re-interpretation of Adolph Hitler's plan for the eradication of the Jewish race and the days leading up to his death. In Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino creates a world of catharsis, one where Hitler's victims and intended victims are able to seek revenge and ultimately destroy the Nazi regime on their own. Through the film's narrative, cinematography, mise-en-scene, and sound, Tarantino is able to explore issues of race, ethnicity, and religion while simultaneously infusing Inglourious Basterds with his unique style and vision.
Inglourious Basterds focuses on the parallel narratives of Shosanna Dreyfus and the covert American military outfit referred to as the Basterds as they work -- unbeknownst to each other -- to take down the Third Reich. Shosanna's vendetta against the Nazis is based on personal need for vengeance as her family was killed by them because they were Jewish, whereas the Basterds seek to kill Nazis for their crimes against the Jewish people during this time. In addition to having a common Nazi enemy, Shosanna and the Basterds are actively pursuing and being pursued by SS Colonel Hans Landa, who although is referred to as the "Jew Hunter," is a skilled investigator (Inglourious Basterds). Shosanna and the Basterds are able to fulfill their individual quests of taking down the Third Reich at the premiere of Nation's Pride, a Nazi propaganda film that is being screened at the theatre Shosanna owns. While Shosanna and the Basterds are unaware of each other's plans and/or motivations, they successfully burn, blow up, and shoot everyone in the theatre, effectively crippling the Nazis, and contributing to the end of the war.
Inglourious Basterds uses linear, parallel narratives that are broken into various chapters to relay the overall narrative of the film. Tarantino has used chapters in his previous films -- Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 and Pulp Fiction -- which help the viewer to better understand the purpose of each character and their motivations. Inglourious Basterds is subdivided into five distinct chapters that allow the viewer to see the individual characters in their own realms and demonstrate how their visions and actions intersect. These chapters are: Chapter One: Once Upon A Time… In Nazi-Occupied France, Chapter Two: Inglourious Basterds, Chapter Three: German Night in Paris, Chapter Four: Operation Kino, and Chapter Five: Revenge of the Giant Face (Powers). Chapters One and Three focus on Shosanna, Chapters Two and Four focus on the Basterds, and Chapter Five brings together Shosanna's and the Basterds' narratives. Chapter Five provides one of the most significant insights into the racial and ethnic tensions between Jews and the Germans through the Nazi propaganda film Nation's Pride, which celebrates Frederick Zoller's triumphs against the Allies, and Shosanna's creating editing of the film as she inserts herself into the propaganda film and announces to the exclusively Nazi audience that she is going to send Germany a message and she wants them to look at "the face of the Jew who is going to do it" (Inglourious Basterds). She then proceeds to conclude her message with "My name is Shosanna Dreyfus and this is the face of Jewish vengeance" as the theatre bursts into flames and two of the Basterds begin shooting everyone inside.
The narrative itself is hypertextual and makes references Tarantino's influences, whether they are actors, directors, or literary characters. For instance, Tarantino pays homage to Mexican B-movie actor Hugo Stiglitz by naming the character played by Til Schweiger, the only German Basterd. Tarantino also pays homage to classic film actor Aldo Ray by naming Lt. Aldo Raine, played by Brad Pitt, after the actor. Furthermore, Tarantino references directors such as directors Enzo G. Castellari, Antonio Margheriti, and Edgar G. Ulmer in the names of the Basterds. Castellari is not used to name the character Enzo Girolami -- Lt. Aldo Raine's alter ego in the film, but Tarantino also pays homage to him through the film's title as Castellari directed the 1978 film Inglorious Bastards ("Inglourious Basterds Trivia"). Also, the character of Antonio Margheretti is named after the director of the same name whom Tarantino and Eli Roth, who plays the Donny "The Bear Jew" Donowitz and is also a director, both admire, and Omar Ulmer, played by Omar Doom, is named after Edgar G. Ulmer, a German Expressionist filmmaker ("Inglourious Basterds Trivia").
Tarantino makes literary references through the characters of SS Hans Landa, played by Christoph Waltz, and Bridget Von Hammersmark, played by Diane Kruger. In the first chapter, SS Col. Landa embraces the characteristics and attitudes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes that include his investigative skills and the Calabash Meerschaum pipe, which although ridiculously oversized, makes an impression on the audience ("Inglourious Basterds Trivia"). SS Col. Landa also makes reference to Cinderella during the course of one of his "investigations" as he identifies and murders Von Hammersmark for her role in a massacre at a tavern. Von Hammersmark lost a shoe in the melee, which SS Col. Landa recovered and forced her to try on at the premiere of the film Nation's Pride, the same premiere that Shosanna and the Basterds exact their final revenge against Hitler and his high-ranking officers (Inglourious Basterds).
Tarantino is able to successfully and authentically depict the tension between the characters through the film's cast. Each character is an extension of the actor and their past histories. For example, prominent members of the Basterds -- played by B.J. Novak, Eli Roth, and Samm Levine -- are of Jewish descent, as is Melanie Laurent, who plays Shosanna; Laurent is also French like her character. Additionally, all the German characters in the film were played by German actors -- August Diehl (SS Major Hellstrom), Til Schweiger (Hugo Stiglitz), Sylvester Groth (Joseph Goebbels), and Diane Kruger (Bridget Von Hammersmark) -- or actors who are half-German -- Michael Fassbender (Lt. Archie Hicox), Christoph Waltz (SS Col. Hans Landa), and Daniel Bruhl (Frederick Zoller) (Inglourious Basterds).
Casting these characters based on their cultural and ethnic backgrounds not only helped to make Tarantino's film more authentic and reinforce the cultural and religious undertones of Inglourious Basterds. Furthermore, it is necessary to cast actors from various countries and backgrounds since the film is dominated by foreign languages that include German, Italian, and French, with English being the least used language in the film. The use of foreign languages helps to drive the narrative forward, and in Chapter Five, are used as a plot device in an attempt to blow the Basterds' cover at the film premiere as SS Col. Landa effortlessly transitions from German to Italian when conversing with Von Hammersmark and Lt. Aldo Raine, Donnie Donowitz, and Omar Ulmer, and disguised as Enzo Girolami, Antonio Margheriti, and Dominic Decoco, respectively (Inglourious Basterds).
In Inglourious Basterds, the mise-en-scene helps to emphasize Tarantino's vision and overall message. Overall, the film uses high contrast cinematography to create a visually saturated film that emphasizes certain tones such as the lush greens of the countryside, which can be seen in the scene where the Basterds beat a Nazi officer to death, and the deep reds, which are emphasized in Nazi flags and in Shosanna's film premiere dress. Tarantino's use of greens and greys is reminiscent of the color scheme employed by Steven Spielberg in his war epic, Saving Private Ryan, and help to accent the World War II tone set forth by Spielberg's and other directors' works. The costuming of the Basterds, both in and out of uniform, are aligned with Tarantino's vision and style. The Basterds are infrequently shown wearing their uniforms because of the fact that they are a covert operation and it is easier for them to carry out their mission dressed as civilians, or impersonating the Nazi soldiers they are tasked with killing. On the other hand, Nazi soldiers are consistently shown wearing their uniforms, which helps to differentiate them from other people and allows Tarantino to transform the menacing Nazi uniform into something that does not mean death for others, but rather death for themselves as they are being targeted for extermination by the Basterds. In Chapter Two, Lt. Aldo Raine tasks the Basterds with killing and scalping 100 Nazis each, a task that is facilitated by Nazi soldiers consistently wearing their uniforms throughout the film.
Tarantino is also able to differentiate between Nazis and the Basterds and Shoshanna through the composition of each scene. Throughout the film, Tarantino uses a variety of high and low angled shots to establish and maintain a…